Ernst, the German painter, sculptor, and poet was a prolific artist. He was one of the great pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism. He was born in Brühl, near Cologne, in 1891 as the third of nine children of a middle-class Catholic family. His father Philipp was a teacher of the deaf and an amateur painter, a devout Christian and a strict disciplinarian. He inspired in Max a penchant for defying authority, while his interest in painting and sketching in nature influenced Max to take up painting himself.
In 1909 Ernst enrolled in the University of Bonn, studying philosophy, art history, literature, psychology and psychiatry. He visited asylums and became fascinated with the art of the mentally ill patients. After he completed his studies in the summer, his life was interrupted by World War I. Ernst was drafted and served both on the Western and the Eastern front. Such was the devastating effect of the war on the artist that in his autobiography he referred to his time in the army thus: "On the first of August 1914 Max Ernst died. He was resurrected on the eleventh of November 1918."
Ernst was demobilized in 1918 and returned to Cologne. He soon married art history student Luise Straus, whom he had met in 1914. In 1919, Ernst visited Paul Klee in Munich and studied paintings by Giorgio de Chirico, which deeply impressed him. The same year, inspired partly by de Chirico and partly by studying mail-order catalogues, teaching-aide manuals, and similar sources, he produced his first collages (notably Fiat modes, a portfolio of lithographs), a technique which would come to dominate his artistic pursuits in the years to come.
Ernst's marriage to Luise was short-lived. In 1921 he met Paul Éluard, who became a close lifelong friend. A year later the two collaborated on Les malheurs des immortels. In 1922, unable to secure the necessary papers, Ernst entered France illegally and settled into a ménage à trois with Éluard and his wife Gala in Paris suburb Saint-Brice, leaving behind his wife and newly born son, Jimmy.
Although apparently accepting the ménage à trois at first, Éluard eventually became more concerned about the affair. In 1924 he abruptly left, first for Monaco, and then for Saigon, Vietnam. He soon asked his wife and Max Ernst to join him; both had to sell numerous paintings to finance the trip. After a brief time together in Saigon, the trio decided that Gala would remain with Paul. The Éluards returned to France in early September, while Ernst followed them some months later, after exploring more of South-East Asia.
Ernst developed a fascination with birds that was prevalent in his work. His alter ego in paintings, which he called Loplop, was a bird. He suggested that this alter-ego was an extension of himself stemming from an early confusion of birds and humans. He said that one night when he was young, he woke up and found that his beloved bird had died, and a few minutes later his father announced that his sister was born. Loplop often appeared in collages of other artists' work, such as Loplop presents André Breton. Ernst himself appeared in the 1930 film L'Âge d'Or, directed by self-identifying Surrealist Luis Buñuel.
In September 1939, the outbreak of World War II caused Ernst to be interned as an "undesirable foreigner" in Camp des Milles, near Aix-en-Provence, along with fellow surrealist, Hans Bellmer, who had recently emigrated to Paris. Thanks to the intercession of Paul Éluard and other friends he was released a few weeks later. Soon after the German occupation of France, he was arrested again, this time by the Gestapo, but managed to escape and flee to America with the help of Guggenheim and Fry. He left behind his lover, Leonora Carrington, and she suffered a major mental breakdown. Ernst and Guggenheim arrived in the United States in 1941 and were married the following year. Along with other artists and friends (Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall) who had fled from the war and lived in New York City, Ernst helped inspire the development of Abstract expressionism.
"The virtue of pride, which was once the beauty of mankind, has given place to that fount of ugliness, Christian humility." - Perhaps it should not surprise that he often referred to himself in the 3rd person. :) Ernst, a man larger than life, died at the age of 84 on 1 April 1976 in Paris.